Cemetery Tourism is a Real Thing and It’s Not Just for Halloween

By Elizabeth Vance

Cemeteries are a window into our past, a lesson on living just waiting to be learned. These quiet unused spaces contain beautiful art and architecture and inspire a sense of history. Thomson Memorial Cemetery, in Thomson, GA, represents part of the 19th century “Rural Cemetery Movement” (1830) which advocated moving cemeteries away from the church-yard into more park-like settings; creating the opportunity for cemeteries to became sites for recreation, picnics, and family outings.

A cemetery tourist may be particularly interested in the historical aspect of a cemetery or they may be interested in the historical relevance of their inhabitants. Thomson Memorial Cemetery’s most prestigious resident is former U.S. Senator Thomas E. Watson. His family descended from Georgia’s early Quaker residents who had settled the area in 1768. As a young lawyer, Watson eagerly accepted virtually every law case that came his way. His gifts of eloquence and intellect and his willingness to spar with lawyers twice his age and experience soon positioned him among the foremost trial lawyers in Georgia. He was elected to the Georgia House in 1882, with the notable support of the district’s black voters. He would be elected to the US House in 1890. While serving in the House, Watson successfully shepherded the bill establishing Rural Free Delivery through the Congress. He became the founder of Georgia’s People’s Party, the populists. Watson’s last political post was that of Senator from Georgia, he died in office on September 26, 1922.

Visiting a cemetery as a tourist (as opposed to a friend or family member) may feel awkward because you may be uncertain about the “rules” or etiquette. The most important thing to know is that most cemeteries welcome cemetery tourists.

Here are a few tips to follow:

  • Before your visit, read guidebooks and/or the cemetery website so you know what to expect. My favorite guidebook is “Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography“ by Douglas Keister. Thomson Memorial Cemetery has its own website at www.thomsonmemorialcemetery.com
  • See if there is a map available. If there is no cemetery office then check with the local Tourism organization. We keep self-guided tour brochures for Thomson Memorial Cemetery at our office.
  • Take your camera. Historic cemeteries have wonderful examples of iconography and epitaphs.
  • Allow yourself sufficient time to wander, reflect and discover the unexpected.
  • Be respectful of people around you; active burials may be going on during your visit.
  • Dress casually but respectfully; wear good walking shoes and be cautious of tripping on uneven ground, rocks or exposed tree roots.
  • Don’t lean on headstones. They may be unstable.
    Children are welcome but make sure they are well-behaved.

For more information about Thomson memorial Cemetery or Thomson, GA visit www.visitthomsonga.com.

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